Clearwater Lake Lodge - The BWCA's Oldest Outfitter - Review

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

For Team Paddle Junkie's 2013 Boundary Waters Gear Test trip we were lucky enough to be able to work with Adam and Kasey Van Tassell, the new owners of Clearwater Lake Lodge.  Adam and Kasey rescued the BWCA's oldest and most storied outfitter from the clutches of foreclosure in the Spring of 2011.  What they operate, nestled away at the end of the Gunflint Trail, is nothing short of a time capsule.  Opening its doors in 1915 and constructing the impressive lodge in time for the 1926 season, there is little wonder why this place has stood the test of time.   Their history is rich and colorful and the staff is happy to share their story.

Entrance to the Lodge and "General Store"
No matter what kind of BWCA experience you are looking for, Clearwater has you covered.  If, like us, you simply need a few pieces of gear and a place to crash for a night before going in, book one of their Bunkhouses and set up a partial outfitting.  Need the whole shooting match?  You can show up with literally nothing and their Complete Trip Packages have you covered.  Love the idea of the BWCA, but sleeping in a tent isn't your thing?  Reserve one of their beautiful Lakeside Cabins and get the best of both worlds.  Heck you don't even need to paddle.  Clearwater Lake is one of the few lakes in the BWCA that allows motorized boats, so you can experience all that is paddle country, without the paddling.  In my opinion, you don't really get it until you throw a canoe over your shoulders and portage at least a half a mile though.
View of the Lodge from the Lake Side
We arrived at Clearwater Lake Lodge just after 7 pm on a Thursday evening, a couple of hours before sunset.  We have the chance to walk around and check the place out, get the BWCA safety video out of the way, and have a couple of cold ones before we crashed out for the night.  Around 10:00 or so, while sitting outside our bunkhouse, we looked up to see flashes of green and blue racing across the sky.  At first we thought it was lightning flashing through the clouds, but fortunately for us, it was the Northern Lights.  It was the first time I had ever seen them in person, so I was incredibly excited.  We grabbed a fresh beverage and headed down to the lake for a better view.  This is what we saw when we got down there...
Thanks to Adam at Clearwater Lake Lodge for sharing this picture.
Let's just say, I missed my scheduled bed time thanks to Mother Nature's light show.  That night we crashed out in one of the Bunk Houses available.  It was a perfect set-up for our group of 6.  Plenty of beds, a bathroom, some space for gear so we could do a little re-packing.  Everything was very clean and was more than we needed, plus it afforded us the opportunity to get up early the next morning and head out into the woods.  Now when I say early, I mean like 8 o'clock.  We made a pit stop in the lodge for a great breakfast of sausage, pancakes, fruit, coffee and juice, just what the doctor ordered for the journey ahead.

Clearwater Lake view as we leave the docks.
As we loaded all of our gear into the canoes (with the Clearwater crew snickering at just how much crap we packed) we looked out over a glassy lake just calling us to paddle into the wild.

Paddling East on Clearwater past the Palisades
We spent the next 5 days exploring, fishing and just enjoying all that is the BWCA.  We stayed on a little lake where we were the only campsite there.  We took a day trip over to Johnson Falls, one of the coolest multi-tier waterfalls I have ever seen.  We caught enough fish to eat every day, saw beaver, loon, otter and turtles.  Right from our campsite we watched an aerial fight between a bald eagle and a golden eagle, from what I saw the golden won round one.
Lower Johnson Falls - easy day trip from Little Caribou Lake
Upon our return, after 5 days of back-country camping, nothing feels as good as a hot shower. I had stopped at the General Store for an ice cold can of Diet Coke. Kasey mentioned that other paddlers had come in the day before to say "Any idea who is staying on Little Caribou?  It looks like Cabellas is setting up shop at that campsite".  Yeah, we know, we bring too much stuff.  There are 2 reasons for this; 1) we are testing all kinds of gear for the Paddle Junkie faithful and 2) "Roughing it" doesn't mean you have to be uncomfortable or hungry.  I want my camp chair and steak dinner, so back off... ;)  Trust me, we get it, we have to carry it all.  I then made a bee line to the bunk houses to wash off 5 days of bug dope and mud.  There is just nothing quite like it.  Once our crew was de-funked we piled back into the Burb and pointed her South.  

We want to thank Adam and Kasey for their hospitality and we promise we will be back.  One of our best BWCA experiences to date.  

Still need to book you 2013 BWCA adventure?  This place has it all.  You will not be disappointed.

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